Home hero Freddy Loix has won the Geko Ypres Rally for an eighth time on the back of a faultless display as the FIA European Rally Championship made its annual visit to Belgium for the all-asphalt spectacular.
The Skoda Motorsport driver, who entered his first Ypres Rally 20 years ago, led from the start having also set the pace during Thursday evening's Qualifying Stage - the first ever on a tarmac event - which marked the competition debut of Michelin's new Pilot Sport R asphalt tyre.
With an advantage of 1m36.2s starting leg two, which covered almost 200 timed kilometres, Loix and co-driver Frédéric Miclotte could afford to manage their pace on a mainly dry second leg in their works-prepared Fabia Super 2000.
“Right from the start I had a great feeling with my car and I was able to push,” said Loix, who made his Ypres debut in 1993. “We showed good speed in difficult conditions. At the moment when Craig [Breen] had problems it was a little bit slowing down and then it was just about trying to get to the finish.”
“I'm absolutely delighted with my eighth victory in Begium and my third in the Skoda,” he added. “It was not easy keeping everything under control. But we found a good rhythm and stayed focused. The car was fantastic.”
While Loix remained out of reach in top spot though, a battle raged for second place between Peugeot 207 S2000 drivers Bryan Bouffier and Craig Breen, who had dropped out of the lead battle when his car suffered a front-left driveshaft failure on Friday evening.
Bouffier began day two 46s ahead of Breen in his Cuckoomobile.be entry. But after going on a five-stage winning streak on the final morning, Breen was able to demote Hayden Paddon for third before slashing Bouffier's advantage to a little more than 20s. However, Bouffier hit back by winning the first of two stages to take place over the border in his native France, before Breen overshot a junction and stalled the engine in his Peugeot Rally Academy entry on stage 14. Bouffier continued to resist Breen's threat by scoring another four stage wins, a performance that earned him the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy.
It would prove to be a dramatic end to the rally for Breen who went off on the final stage and ended up stuck in a ditch. He eventually regained the road thanks to the help of several spectators but feared his hopes were over until the stage was cancelled after the cars of Davy Vanneste and Mikko Pajunen caught fire and blocked the stage, thankfully without injury to either crew. With the results declared at the end of stage 19, Breen was classified third behind Bouffier.
Vanneste's exit handed a stunning fourth to Mitsubishi Lancer pilot Andy Lefevere – they had been in a close scrap at the time – with Dutchman Hermen Kobus fifth and Michal Solowow sixth. Lefevere also won the ERC Production Car Cup.